'Telegraph' titles at odds over 'false' Thatcher story

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The Independent Online

A national newspaper made an extraordinary attack on its Sunday stablemate yesterday for printing what it called a "false" report on the Conservative leadership election.

The attack appears to have put Charles Moore, the editor of The Daily Telegraph, at loggerheads with Dominic Lawson, the editor of The Sunday Telegraph, whose staff share the same offices.

For a newspaper to contradict a sister title in such a way is extremely unusual. Neither editor would comment on the dispute yesterday.

Responding to The Sunday Telegraph's front-page article that Baroness Thatcher was backing Michael Portillo in the race for the Tory leadership, yesterday's Daily Telegraph reported a firm denial from the former prime minister on its own front page.

The Daily Telegraph's editorial column was also used to highlight alleged inaccuracies in the story, insisting that it had been denied by Lady Thatcher's office even before the Sunday newspaper was published. "The story is false," it said. "It was denied by Lady Thatcher's office on Saturday and again, by her personally, yesterday."

But an insider at The Sunday Telegraph said that a full denial from Lady Thatcher was not forthcoming before the paper went to press. "The Press Association ran a story at about 9.45pm on Saturday evening quoting Lady Thatcher as saying, 'I do not want to make any comment about any of the candidates. I like all three.' That was not a denial that she is backing Portillo," he said. "Had we had a categorical denial we would have had to do something drastic to the story. There wasn't one. The full denial came some time on Sunday after our story had run, when she had clearly changed her mind."

After claiming that Lady Thatcher was backing Mr Portillo, The Sunday Telegraph report described the news as a "bitter and unexpected blow for Mr Duncan Smith, who shares the former prime minister's traditionalist right-wing views and is personally close to her".

David Cracknell, the paper's deputy political editor, who wrote the story, reported that allies of Lady Thatcher had said that she believed Mr Portillo was "the best candidate ... The man with the charisma, with the cabinet-level experience and he was very loyal to me."